Meša Selimović, one of former Yugoslavia’s very best novelists, in his ﬁnest work oﬀers his readers an extraordinarily intricate examination of the anxious and incapacitated human heart, splayed against a backdrop of unsettling vagueness and mystery.
The novel recounts the story of sheikh Ahmed Nuruddin, a dervish living in a kasaba in Bosnia, sometime during the Ottoman rule. When his brother is arrested, the dervish is uprooted from his serene life in the tekke and thrust in the reality of an unfair world, where the fate of an individual means nothing to the merciless system. Often compared to the works of Kafka and Dostoyevsky, this painfully honest and masterly woven story is vague enough in its timing and setting to gain the universality which makes it ever relevant.
The plot of the novel is based on a true event in Selimović’s own life, allowing the narrator to examine the experience from the most personal point of view and delve into every dark corner of the human soul confronted with the hardest life choices. Hugely successful when published in the 1960s, Death and the Dervish has continued to enchant the reader with equal power ever since.
Then I realized what was most important. Did he remember? I had also asked him once about the golden bird that meant happiness. Now I understood: that was friendship, love for another. Everything else can deceive us, but that cannot. Everything else can slip away and leave us empty, but that cannot, because it depends on us. I could not tell him: be my friend. But I could say: I’ll be yours.